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The Greening of Prime Minister Harper

24 January 2007

Recently, Prime Minister Harper re-shuffled his cabinet in an attempt to position himself and his party for the expected election this year. The most notable move was to remove Rona Ambrose from the Ministry of the Environment portfolio and replace her with John Baird. She was clearly not up to pushing Harper’s weak stance on the environment after he pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Accord in favour of a “made in Canada” solution to global warming, aping George Bush’s stance that reducing greenhouse gases would hurt the economy. Ambrose was further hampered by the fact that her riding abutted the Tar Sands of Alberta, the greatest polluting agent in Canada. As David Suzuki remarked in “The Independent” (Jan 18 2007),” Of course, poor performance in this context doesn’t mean insufficiently protecting the environment. It means she was unable to assuage concerns held by the public, the opposition and the media, that Stephen Harper’s government is completely uninterested, even hostile, towards the environment.”

With this cabinet move, Harper is trying to be seen as taking environmental concerns more seriously. The truth is that global warming has leapt to the top of the voter concerns list, even ahead of perennial favourite, health care. The recent London, Ontario, by-election saw the Green Party leader come a close second to the Liberal winner and easily beat the Conservative and NDP Candidates. John Baird, a former minister in Mike Harris’ Ontario government has a higher profile, attracts more attention, and is better known for his ‘pit-bull’ style of shouting partisan sound bites and opposition put-downs rather than making any meaningful contribution to the topic under review. On the other hand, the Liberals were in power for 13 years prior to the current Conservative government, and, while signing on to the Kyoto Accord, did virtually nothing to reach the greenhouse gas reduction targets set out for Canada. In fact, while new Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, was the Environmental Minister in that Liberal government, emissions increased 35%. The end result is, left up to the politicians, doing anything about greenhouse gases is just so much hot air that only adds to the problem! Cameron Smith writes in an article entitled, “ Based on Their Records, How Can You Trust Any of Them?” (Toronto Star, Jan 20 2007), “Less than a year ago (i.e. when environmental concerns were supposedly low in voter concerns list - my comment) the Conservatives sliced the heart out of Canada’s climate change program by cutting 40% of its budget to offset reducing the GST rate.”

The facts are quite simple and well known. That climate is in a warming trend is irrefutable. The climate, like everything else in the universe, is in constant change and cycles of warming and cooling have happened frequently in Earth’s history. What is different this time is the incredible speed at which it is taking place. What happened over eons in the past is occurring in decades today. Effects of climate change are observable in a lifetime. It appears that this has been taking place at an increasing rate since the beginning of the industrial revolution when large scale burning of fossil fuels started and is naturally linked to human activity, especially dirty methods of production. Scientists who are specialists in the field have been giving us warnings and solutions for decades. There are, of course, skeptics who deny that human activity is the cause and that we should just go on as we are and wait for the next cooling period. That dissention should be a good thing, engendering learned discussion and debate to arrive at causes and solutions. Unfortunately, like so many debates in our current society, massive funding from big business sectors that stand to lose profits, such as the oil and gas and auto sectors, has been used to try and skew the debate in their favour and obfuscate getting to a meaningful and sound conclusion. This is the usual response by industry to protect profits while never letting truth get in the way that we saw with the tobacco industry re cancer and tobacco and then second hand smoke, or the petro-chemical industry and DDT, among many examples. An article in the Toronto Star (Jan 19 2007),” Landmark UN Study Backs Climate Theory” notes that a report by 2 000 scientists all but ends the debate on human activity causing global warming and that it is taking place at twice the rate of the previous century. It is quite certain that industrial and agricultural wastes and chemicals pollute the soil, the waterways, the oceans and the air we breathe and put thousands of carcinogenous agents into our environment causing the soaring cancer rates (now one in three and heading rapidly to one in two after being one in thirty-three one hundred years ago - CBC radio) and destroying ecosystems all over the world. Even if it were found not to contribute to global warming, it would be good to eliminate these dirty production problems.

Why is it that after decades of knowing about the problem we are still just talking about it and doing relatively nothing? To begin with, it is a world-wide problem that will require world-wide action. Kyoto is an international accord signed by many, but not all, nations. It is a very tiny beginning, not a solution, but is seriously flawed in that to get off the ground at all, the big polluters had to be appeased by the credit system whereby small polluters who overshot their targets could sell these “excess points” to the big polluters to count towards their targets. In other words, big polluters can buy their compliance without having to change anything. Even this cosy arrangement was too much for the profit mongers of the biggest polluting nation, the Americans, who, through their mouthpiece, George Bush, rejected the minimal accord. In saying that controls on pollution would hurt the economy (i.e. profits), Bush, Harper, and others, have shown the true purpose of government - giving the legal, military, and judicial support necessary to the running of the capitalists' system. Everyone, including the capitalists, would like a pollution-free, green world, but fighting pollution will cost mega bucks. Since wages represent just enough to sustain us, and the next generation of workers, our children, that money cannot come from wages and would, therefore, have to come out of the only other chunk of money, profits. The successful pressure on governments to resist anything that impacts profit levels determines government policy. A second problem to successfully fighting global warming is that capitalism is a myriad of competing groups of capitalists, backed by their state governments. It is this anarchy of production, where anyone and everyone with the economic wherewithal can jump into an expanding economy to seize an opportunity to make a quick profit, that causes the overproduction of commodities that triggers factory closings and lay-offs common to a recession. There is no overall plan to match production to need. Production just stumbles along until it hits market saturation and profits decline throwing thousands, perhaps millions, out of work and leaving factories and their machinery as so much junk to be thrown away. The workers are in the position of not being able to afford sufficient means of living precisely because there is an overabundance of the means of living! Against this backdrop of every-man-for-himself production, we are expecting these ‘captains of industry’, who never miss an opportunity to manipulate governments into doing their bidding, to come up with a global solution with the interests of all humanity taken into account - a clean world with breathable air, drinkable water, uncontaminated food and a sustainable lifestyle. The likelihood of this happening anytime soon with our current mode of production is slim to none. We all know what has to happen. In the editorial page of the Northumberland News Jan 19 2007 Dwight Irwin wrote, “I believe the entire global warming issue comes down to government and industry. Al Gore can make movies - see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by the way, it’s shocking - and spread the word about global warming, but without every government in the world making a concerted effort to force industry to change the way they do business, we’ll always be faced with this problem. Well, until we’re baked off the planet, that is.” We, the producers who do not own the means of producing and distributing wealth are in the vast majority. It is up to us, not the owners, to figure out how to change the system so that a clean and sustainable lifestyle IS possible. We, the socialists, have a few good ideas on that, of course.

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